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Using Genetic Engineering to Create a Chair

9 Maria Thompson on December 19, 2012

In our effort to promote research, Scientist sponsored the NYU Gallatin IGEM team. As we’ve seen before, the IGEM competition generates very cool scientific innovations. NYU Gallatin’s project seeks out just what the post title suggests: how to use synthetic biology and genetic engineering to construct a chair. Aptly named Genetic Generation Seat (or Gen2Seat), the project has two goals: to engineer and construct a cellulose biocomposite chair, and determine public openness to using items produces by genetically modified organisms (GMO). A renewable source of cellulose offers an opportunity for manufacturers and consumers to be green and provide new source of intrigue among furniture owners.

The science starts with trying to engineer Acetobacter to produce a chitin and cellulose hybrid using Biobricking. Roughly speaking, three plasmids with unique genes were created via Gibson assembly (joining of DNA fragments in a single reaction) and PCR amplified. Another Gibson assembly combined the amplified products to make a plasmid with all three unique genes encoded. The team has run into some problems with plasmid creation, but the next steps are to transform Acetobacter with the new plasmid and express the copolymer of chitin and cellulose.

Incidentally, Scientist’s independent panel of judges awarded Maria Aiolova with the Tri-State Open Science Challenge’s BioArt award. The award provides $5000 to create a work of art using science and the idea of a genetically created chair fit the criteria well.

Image courtesy of Gen2Seat IGEM team from NYU Gallatin

Gen2Seat’s survey of public opinion on GMO products showed that people approved overwhelmingly of GMO created fuels and medicine, while showing great skepticism towards GMO foods; GMO produced clothes were in the middle, with most approving of genetically engineered clothes and some resistant to the idea. The results are not surprising given that the primary concern with genetically modified products are its possible health issues, particularly if ingested. If a person only has to touch it or burn it, then the health implications are much lower and thus easier to accept. You can view their poster for more information on the survey and the project in general.

While project still has a lot to prove, it is exciting to see what new products genetic engineering can create. We look forward to taking a seat and seeing the team combine science and art.

  1. To read more about their project, visit the NYU Gallatin team site.
  2. View the NYU Gallatin Poster
  3. View the NYU Gallatin Presentation from the 2012 Americas East Regional Jamboree